Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Language Use in the Foreign Language Classroom

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Language Use in the Foreign Language Classroom

Article excerpt


Students' first and target language are often used by both teachers and students during instruction in the foreign language classroom (Levine, 2011). Changes from one language to another, called code-switching, have been defined in a variety of ways. Timm (1993) defined code-switching as the alternating of two different languages at the word, phrase, clause, or sentence level (p. 94). Coste (1997) defined code-switching as alternating between two languages in either oral or written expression. Often, the expression is used interchangeably with terms such as code mixing, language switching, or language alternation, although each term has a slightly different meaning depending on the researcher. Code-switching research has tended to look at more advanced bilinguals, while less consideration has been given to code-switching in the foreign language classroom and especially these interactions between students and teachers.

Research to date has not considered how the initiator of the code-switches may influence other interlocutors and how the type and quantity of code-switching in a classroom may affect overall language use. In addition, studies have failed to consider the impact of the students' code-switching on the teacher's language choices. In this study, researchers examined the overall use of Spanish and English in the classroom by both the students and the teachers. In order to better understand the influence of code-switching on overall language use, the number of code-switches by teachers and students were examined, focusing on the initiator of the code-switch and subsequent language use. In addition, teacher and student code-switching behaviors, including the point of initiation of each code-switch, the context surrounding it, subsequent language choices, and how the class level and the frequency of code-switches affected the overall use of Spanish and English in the classroom, were also studied to better understand first and target language use in the classroom. Too often research has looked only at student or teacher use and failed to connect the linguistic behaviors between the two groups within the language classroom to fully understand the language choices that are made and how choice of language may be influenced, which can thus lead to a better understanding of the dynamic of language use in the foreign language classroom as well as the factors that impact language use by both students and teachers.

Literature Review

Recommendations for Language Use in the Classroom

In 2010, ACTFL recommended that "language educators and their students use the target language as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom" (ACTFL, 2010, p. 1). This recommendation is supported by an established body of research about the effectiveness of exclusive, or almost exclusive, use of the target language in supporting students' progress toward proficiency in a second language. Several studies (Carroll, 1975; Turnbull & Arnett, 2002; Wolf, 1977) reported positive correlations between the teacher's use of the target language and students' acquisition of the language, thus substantiating the effectiveness of a teaching style in which use of the first language is actively avoided.

In addition, some researchers have emphasized the importance of the quality of the language being used with students (Guthrie, 1984; Hall & Walsh, 2002). For example, using the target language for rote translations and mechanical pronunciation practice will likely inspire less progress toward proficiency than engaging students in more interactive exercises and negotiation of meaning. This is, in fact, what Guthrie (1984) discovered: In her study of graduate student-teachers of French, she found that, although the student-teachers used the target language most of the time, they tended to use routine phrases and instructions that were very repetitive and limited in range; that learners were required to cognitively process very small amounts of novel language that was outside of their daily classroom routine; and that learners were able, with very limited knowledge of the target language, to understand the activities in the classroom due to their undeviating patterns. …

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